BizTimes Bubbler Executive of the Week: Gina Spang

Gina Spang, president of the Italian Community Center and chairman of Festa Italiana 2013
Organization name: Italian Community Center
Organization address: 631 E. Chicago St., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Website: or
Industry: Cultural nonprofit
Number of employees and volunteers: Over 1,000 volunteers
Family: Mom, dad, two sisters, one brother, eight nieces and nephews and hundreds of cousins  

What is the smartest thing your organization did the past year? 

“Modifying our approach to Festa Italiana. We expanded our outreach using modern technology, such as our new mobile app ‘Festa MKE.’ The app is available for iPhone, iPad and ANDROID and has been getting a wonderful response. We also use Twitter and Facebook to engage with modern festivalgoers. Additionally, we focused our resources by reorganizing the grounds and going with a three-day festival instead of four days as in previous years.”

What’s new at Festa Italiana or the Italian Community Center?
“Since it’s Festa ‘season,’ I will focus on Festa. We have a few new things that we are excited about, the first being our first-ever happy hour on the grounds this Friday from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. when select food and beverage items will be half-price. We encourage people to sneak out of the office a little early or come after work to grab a glass of wine and enjoy this great deal. Another new thing is our Uncorked Wine Tasting Experience (all three days of Festa) where you can sample and learn about 36 different varieties of wines from Italy and California. Our partners at LoDuca Bros. Wines have really made this a total experience including wine seminars and auctions.

We also have our first annual Festa World Cup Soccer Tournament, which is Saturday, July 20. We have eight teams competing this year. Games begin around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, and the championship game will take place around 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. The games will be on the field just outside of the Festa grounds on the north end. Finally, this year’s entertainment is a really great combination of traditional Italian and new entertainers.  We’ve partnered again with Spiked Island Adult Lemonade to sponsor this year’s headliners: Colt Ford (on Friday), Matt Nathanson and the Plain White T’s (on Saturday), and Phil Vassar will return (on Sunday).”

Does your organization plan to make any significant changes in the coming year?
“Yes. We need to revise the business model for the Community Center. In addition to that, we are going to develop a strategic plan, which will assist us in addressing our immediate needs/challenges as well as establishing the framework for a long-term plan for the organization.”

What will be your organization’s main challenge in the next year? 

“Moving from planning to implementation as mentioned in the previous question.”

What’s the hottest trend in the festival world?
“While I can’t speak to the festival world as a whole, I can speak about Festa Italiana. For us, we are really focusing on refreshing our brand and utilizing modern day media, such as the mobile app, Facebook, Twitter and the like. Our new logo and marketing materials are reflective of a festival that is both rich in tradition and one that is poised for success in the future.”

Do you have a professional mantra?
“My mantra is based on what I am facing at the moment, so most recently I find myself saying: Be patient. We’re getting there. When I need to dig deep, I think about the Lou Holtz quote: ‘Play like a champion today.’”  

From a business standpoint, who do you look up to?
“I gave this a lot of thought, and I kept coming back to my grandfather and my uncles. My grandfather started C.W. Purpero Excavating in the 1920s, my uncles took over the business from my grandfather, and now my cousin is the president. So the family business has thrived and is now in its third generation of leadership. Given the challenges of a family-run business as well as the recent economic climate, I think that is pretty amazing.”    

What was the best advice you ever received? 

“Follow the yes’s.”

What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in your career?
“Showing up at work with two different shoes on!”

What do you like to do in your free time? 

“I enjoy spending time with my family, doing anything outdoors in the summer, and I really need to find some time to learn how to cook.”

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